Trump talks to the public through Twitter. Here’s what happens when your next president blocks you
Heather Spohr of Thousand Oaks has been blocked from Donald Trump’s Twitter account since she called the president-elect “repulsive” on the social media platform last year. (Mel Melcon/Los Angeles Times)
Heather Spohr didn’t vote for Donald Trump, but that doesn’t mean she’s not interested in keeping up with what her soon-to-be president has been saying.
That hasn’t been so easy for the Thousand Oaks mother of two ever since she tweeted during a Republican primary debate last year that she found the celebrity businessman “repulsive” because of his feud with Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly.
Spohr is now one of an untold number of people who are blocked from following the president-elect on Twitter — a distinction that ordinarily wouldn’t matter except that Trump, who hasn’t held a news conference since July, uses the social media platform as his primary tool for communicating with the American public.
Spohr can’t follow her future president, view his tweets or communicate with him on Twitter (not that she ever thought he’d notice). She now relies on friends to send screenshots of the president-elect’s tweets. Her husband also checks for her in the morning using his Twitter account given Trump’s propensity for posting missives overnight.
“It makes me laugh in a way that’s not funny,” said Spohr, 37, a blogger and freelance writer. “I can’t see the tweets of the president-elect. He’s going to be my president. It’s absurd.”
In a campaign year defined by the upending of political norms, this may feel like just another Trumpian triumph over tradition. Twitter, after all, is a private platform where free speech protections don’t apply and users can choose to unfollow, mute or block anyone they want.
But unlike other Twitter users, Trump is about to become the 45th president of the United States. His conduct on social media matters, according to presidential historians and political scientists, because by blocking followers, Trump is effectively saying only Americans who resist the urge to publicly disparage him are worthy of his pronouncements.
“The president should speak to all Americans directly and not filter people out,” said Timothy Naftali, a presidential historian at New York University. “Are people blocked from watching television or listening to radio when a president gives an address? The president-elect needs to get used to the idea that presidential words matter. And everyone needs access to those words.”
It’s unclear how many people are blocked by Trump, who has 16.3 million followers to his account (@realDonaldTrump). Twitter says it won’t comment on individual accounts, and the Trump transition team did not respond to a request for comment.
It’s also unclear if President Obama, the nation’s first chief executive to take to Twitter, has blocked any followers on either his private account (@BarackObama) or the official presidential account (@POTUS). The White House did not respond to a request for comment. Last year, however, White House spokesman Patrick Rodenbush tweeted “Nobody is or has ever been blocked from the @POTUS twitter account” in response to a conservative critic who said he had been blocked.
Trump will take control of the official presidential account after he takes office. It is uncertain which one he’ll use as his primary account, or whether people followed — or blocked — on his personal account will get the same treatment from the presidential handle.
A search on Twitter reveals numerous people who claim to have been blocked by Trump’s account, often posting the screengrab to prove it.
“Regret to inform that I cannot see the Trump tweets you’re referring to, as I am blocked by the … President of the United States,” David Roth, a sportswriter, said in a Nov. 15 tweet that was retweeted more than 7,500 times.
Some seem to revel in the ban by someone poised to become the most important world leader.
“Well, I’ve finally made it,” tweeted Adam Molloy, a self-described actor, singer, writer and producer with fewer than 200 followers. “@realDonaldTrump blocked me on Twitter. I’m not one to brag, but this feels good.”
Others say a block by Trump is akin to a badge of honor.
“Being blocked by Trump is the new Verified Account,” tweeted someone with the handle @JRMcGRail.
Andrew Friedman, a New York media strategist, discovered he was blocked by Trump in 2013 shortly after his then boss, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, filed a suit against Trump University.
“If anyone happens to bump into the next leader of the free world, can you ask him to unblock me on #Twitter? Many thanks,” Friedman recently tweeted.
The move puzzles Friedman who said a president should try to persuade all Americans to buy into his vision for the country.
“It seems like it would be in his best interest to allow people of all opinions to read, see and hear all that he has to say,” Friedman said in a phone interview.
What warrants a block from our next president? Sometimes all it takes is a puerile jab from a high schooler.
Antonio Del Otero, 16, said he was blocked after replying to one of Trump’s tweets by likening the president-elect to a Cheetos snack.
“I didn’t believe it at first,” said Del Otero, a Detroit resident who has since deleted the offending tweet because he caught the ire of Trump supporters online. “I didn’t know what to think. I see this guy all over the news and he must have seen my tweet and blocked me. I was really shocked, but my grandma was thrilled.”
Though a fervent Trump detractor who uses an expletive on his Twitter page to denounce the incoming president, Del Otero is still hopeful he’ll be unblocked after inauguration day, figuring staff members will eventually take over the presidential account with a clean slate.
“If not, it’s just as much an honor to be blocked by the 45th president of the United States,” said Del Otero, a member of his high school class council.
Experts, however, are less sanguine about Trump restraining his Twitter behavior.
Trump has turned the microblogging service into his soapbox, allowing him to circumvent a media with which he is often at odds. Like the fireside radio chats of President Franklin Roosevelt’s, Trump uses the technology of his day to bypass the press and communicate directly with the nation.
With his speech unchallenged, Trump has used the platform not just to rally his supporters but also, critics say, to distract from negative coverage and to attack his rivals. His tweets have insulted a cross-section of America, including celebrities (Alec Baldwin, Penn Jillette and Neil Young), the media (CNN and the New York Times), companies (Amazon and Macy’s) and places (New Jersey).
And those who have insulted him back? Some of them find themselves blocked.
Every president, of course, has a different tack for dealing with critics; some better than others, said Barbara Perry, director of Presidential Studies and Co-Chair of the Presidential Oral History Program at the University of Virginia.
President Kennedy once canceled all White House subscriptions to the New York Herald Tribune. President Richard Nixon created an “enemies list” that included journalists. And President Lyndon Johnson endured the incessant anti-war chant outside the White House of “LBJ. How many kids did you kill today?” Thin skin is typically not a desirable quality for the country’s highest office.
“What will happen to a president who deliberately removes himself from criticism?” Perry said.
There are workarounds that let users see Trump’s tweets even if he blocks them, such as opening a new account. There’s also an emerging movement on Twitter to beat the president-elect at his own game by tuning him out with the hashtag #BlockTrump. That, however, seems unlikely to change social media behavior ingrained with more than 34,000 Trump tweets in seven years.
Naftali, the NYU historian, is already wondering if Twitter may be the best medium for recording the president’s legacy.
“I’ve been thinking about his presidential library,” he said. “Would there be a whole wall of his tweets?”
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10:15 a.m.: This article was updated to clarify that there are ways for blocked users to see Trump’s tweets, such as by creating new accounts.
This article was originally published at 3 a.m.